. . . For another terrific Joe Val Festival! And to think they managed to pull it off amidst a foot of snowfall Saturday night and Sunday morning, deterring attendees and sending some home Saturday for fear of being stranded. But the bands were there (see previous post, here), mostly. And the festival was in a hotel, where lucky fans were already ensconced, taking up lobbies and hallways with convivial jamming, and as it turned out, the roads by early Sunday were clear. Whether overall attendance was down I don’t know, but it was not noticeable.
It never ceases to amaze me how many Festival attendees spend their time jamming—which is why they come, of course, but there’s an awful lot of Main Stage music that they miss. Then, I missed all of the Showcase Stage acts, and a lot of other activity, so I guess that’s why it’s a Festival and not just a concert.
I did get downstairs Friday afternoon to see Rhonda Vincent, at the top of the bluegrass elite these days, gently lead a jam session with about 20 players. As one person turned to me and said, “You won’t see this at a rock concert.”
Unfortunately, I had to leave before her 11 PM set on the Main Stage. But we got a chance to chat, and she remembered appearing on Hillbilly at Harvard, which pleased me, as it was too many years ago. Kathy Kallick remembered, too, though it must have been 14 years. Her California band, she said, complained about getting up to do a morning radio appearance, but were told by the gentleman who was shepherding them around, “This is an important show.”
Everyone has his own favorite moments at an event like this. For me there was Danny Paisley and his hot traditional band playing one great song after another. Danny had a cold, but carried on splendidly, with great good humor, like the trouper he is. Then there was a perfectly luminous set by Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. I confess that, while I’ve played Laurie’s music for many years, I have perhaps taken it for granted. Maybe it’s that the records don’t quite do her justice. There’s something about a live performance, even from the middle of the auditorium, that can bring an artist into focus. It just seemed to be a special moment. I saw Jim Rooney after Laurie’s set, and he clearly felt it, too: “That alone was worth the price of admission,” he said; there might have been a tear in his eye.
Laurie came back with Kathy Kallick on Sunday for a wonderful set of songs from their Vern and Ray project: Laurie and Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern and Ray. It was a great treat to hear these ladies resurrecting these (mostly) familiar songs they learned decades ago from Vern Williams and Ray Park, with their own stamp but completely true to the spirit of those two great Arkansans who brought real mountain music to California. The album is terrific, a rich feast—go buy and savor it.
The one headline band that didn’t make it to the Festival, “snowed out” I assume because Logan Airport was closed, was The Del McCoury Band. I was looking forward to seeing Del, but Dudley Connell and The Seldom Scene stepped into the breach to close out Sunday afternoon with an impromptu but marvelously entertaining succession of guests still at the Festival, like members of Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, The Southern Grass, and others—Laurie and Tom Rozum even did a “palette-cleansing” mini-set of old-time songs.
It never fails to amaze me how the all-volunteer staff of the Boston Bluegrass Union manage to pull off such a large and complex event, that to the audience seems to go off without a hitch. Of course there were probably hitches we didn’t know about. When you see Stan or Gerry or Sheila heading off determindly with a cell phone at an ear, you figure something must be up. But whatever it is, we innocents and bluegrass fans never learn. /CL
PS Friday, 20Feb15: I planned to feature Laurie and Kathy’s Vern & Ray album tomorrow, along with others I acquired at the Festival, but alas I’ve been bitten by a nasty bug which leaves me coughing painfully, and hoarse. So we’ll have to run some Generic Hours. I’ll try to update the Calendar here on the blog tomorrow.